AN: I edited this a lot and added more character development. I'm a big believer in the 'show don't tell' theory and some people found my method a bit too subtle. So here are some more blatant character traits, riddled through the whole story. If you really want to read them you can skip through each chapter to the times when Anna and Tyler actually talk. It's mostly during those parts. I used them as a foil for each other.

----

Three days and the fog had not lifted. At times it seemed as though no one could go anywhere outside the small town. A barrier of fog had made the little town a prison. The weather induced a need for adventure and solitude. Many teenagers would go by the pier and listen to the water through the fog. This morning a dark-haired boy walked by there, slouched slightly, as if trying to hide himself from the world. His brown eyes were hidden by a carefully chosen pair of yellow sunglasses. His hands were in his jacket pockets and a walkman in his ears, drowning out everything around him. He stopped walking, drawn to a couple at the very end of the pier. It was late afternoon on a Wednesday, everyone else would be inside having dinner, especially in this weather.

The young man in the couple was named Derek Ridley. He was an intimidating guy. The president of student council, and the smartest one in math class, Derek worked hard for his image, he wanted all the girls to want him. He knew what he had and wasn't afraid to show it off. Charisma and good manners oozed from every pore of his unmarred face. Who better to be his girlfriend than Anna? Anna Caruthers. She was the one of the more popular girls in school, perfectly beautiful with a mind to match. Sure she could be blunt, and rather cruel with her words if she wanted to be, but that only kept her on top. It kept her in control and she liked it that way. They were so, cliché, so natural it seemed unnatural; Almost as if a script had been written for their scene. The dark-haired boy scoffed and turned away from the couple. He headed home.

Anna looked down at her watch just then.

"Oh no!" She cried. "I have ten minutes to make it home in time!"

Derek helped her stand. "Do you want me to walk you home?"

"No." Anna shook her head. "I think I'll run there."

"All right. I'll call you tonight." He waved good bye as Anna started a fast jog down the sidewalk toward her home.

Eight minutes later, Anna walked through her front door gasping for breath. Her mom stood in the kitchen with the phone cradled between her ear and shoulder while she stirred something on the stove and held Anna's little brother Cavin with the other arm.

She turned and smiled when she heard the door slam behind Anna.

"Oh good you're home!" She left the spoon in the pot and dumped Cavin into Anna's arms. "Watch your bother for me will you?"

Mrs. Caruthers went back to the oven and laughed at something the person on the other line said.

Anna watched her for a minute. Her hair was bright red and curly, like Cavin's, and their eyes were the same light green. Freckles covered Cavin like their mom. Sometimes she was jealous of him. She didn't look anything like her mother.

"Anna pway!" He urged her as he tugged on her hair.

Anna sighed and muttered under her breath, "don't worry where I was for two and a half hours or anything."

---

Later that night, while she sat in her bedroom doing homework, she heard someone calling her. She finished the last of the homework and put it aside.

"What mom?" She yelled through her closed door.

There was no answer. Anna, confused, got up and went to the living room where her mother sat holding Cavin.

"What did you want?"

Anna's mom looked up at her and blinked, "what?"

"You called me. What did you want?"

"I didn't call you. You must have heard the TV." She reached up and felt Anna's forehead. "Are you feeling all right honey?"

"Yea." Anna backed away and shook her head. "I'm fine, I must have heard the TV or something."

She climbed the stairs back to her bedroom and lit a couple candles. They helped to calm her before she went to bed and she liked watching the flames dance on the wicks. She sat on her carpet and closed her eyes. When she finally opened them, she was staring at herself in her dresser mirror. The reflection of a skinny girl with short, straight blond hair and light blue eyes stared back at her. She smiled at herself.

"He loves me," she whispered to no one, marveling at how it felt to know that.

"Anna," someone called her again. It wasn't her mother this time; Anna looked around her room nervously. "Anna!" The voice grew louder. She stood up, scared now, and took quick glances around her room again.

She stood poised in the center of her bedroom for nearly five minutes, but she didn't hear anything else. She let her breath out slowly and decided it was time she went to bed.

---

"Turn to page fifty-three in your textbooks," Mr. Inage instructed his class. Anna jumped and looked around.

"Waa?" She asked, almost yelped.

The entire class turned to stare at her.

"Is there a problem Miss Anna?" Her science teacher asked. Anna tried to smile.

"No, no, um what page was it again?" She giggled nervously. She didn't remember coming to class, or waking up, or even coming to school. It was as if she had suddenly appeared in her science class. Her heart was in her throat and a wave of heat washed over her face. What was happening to her?

Anna flipped to page fifty-three while desperately trying to remember what had happened that morning. She couldn't focus on the lesson; somehow molecular compounds didn't grab her interest as much as her sudden amnesia.

Once the bell rang to let her out of class Anna rushed to her locker. She found her backpack, a coat, Walkman, everything she would bring to school on a regular day. She just didn't remember bringing them.

"Hey you," Derek's hands slid around her waist, she turned to face him and smiled. She pushed the thoughts of this morning out of her mind. "So, are you feeling better?" He asked cautiously.

"Uh, Yea I feel fine, why?" Anna looked up into his eyes and he squinted at her.

"You seemed sort of, out of it that morning, like you weren't really here," he shrugged.

"Oh." A chill ran up Anna's spine. She still couldn't remember anything that had happened that morning.

"Well, I guess I'd better get to English." Derek looked at his watch. He leaned in and kissed Anna before hurrying down the hall.

Anna grabbed her books and slammed her locker shut. Too many things she couldn't control were happening all at once. She wanted to scream. She rushed down the stairs to her history classroom, in her hurry she didn't see the dark-haired boy watching her as she ran past. He moved out from beside the locker he had stood behind and followed her. Anna walked into her classroom and he followed. She sat in the front and he sat at the back of the row next to her. The class began, and so did the first trying hour of Anna's life.

For the most part Anna spent her class staring at the clock, watching the minutes tick by. The dark boy spent his class staring at Anna. He could tell she was nervous, the way she kept looking at the clock and wringing her hands gave it all away.

"Anna!" The voice was back and it screamed at her. She held her hands to her ears and doubled over in her chair. "Anna, ANNA!"

"Not listening," she muttered. A few people turned to glance at her, wondering what had gotten into cheerleader Anna. "Just a dream." She reassured herself. "Go away, go away..."

The boy watched her; her figure flickered and blurred like an image before his eyes. He blinked, confused. He moved his eyes quickly around the rest of his class. No one else noticed what was happening. He knew her name, but that was only because she was the single most popular girl in school. He'd never talked to her; she wouldn't have wanted to talk to him. He stayed silent as long as he could, speaking was a waste of time, and action was the only thing that could solve things in his life.

A thick fog rolled around Anna. She gasped and whipped her head around; no one else saw the fog, the lesson continued as if nothing were happening. Slowly the classroom faded away from her, the fog surrounded her, consumed her, and no one noticed. She grabbed frantically at her desk. She tried to hold on to her binder, but they slipped through her fingers as if they weren't even there. Anna was breathing quickly now, in nervous gasps. Her desk melted away and she found herself sitting on a rock. She stood up quickly and moved around the rock. Then her shin connected with a part of the rock that jutted out.

"Ouch!" She yelped and brought her leg up to her chest so she was standing on one foot. "I must be dreaming," her breath came out in frightened squeaks. "Hello?" She called. There was nothing around her, nothing but the rock and the fog. She walked away from it; on the verge of panic. "Hello?" She screamed.

The boy experienced much the same fate as Anna had. He had done this same transfer that morning but he remembered much more than she did.

"Anna?" He called out into the gloom.

Anna jumped at the sound of her name, "Where are you?" She cried frantically.

The boy appeared out of the fog in front of her, Anna didn't recognize him. Why would she? She'd never spoken to him before.

"Who. . ." She stepped around from behind the rock. "Who are you?"

"Tyler," he mumbled.

"Tyler who?"

He remained silent. She came closer to him and grabbed his jacket. Only then did she get a good look at him. His dark hair was spiked up with hair gel and he was dressed entirely in black, a black trench coat over a black T-shirt, and black pants. He wore a pair of glasses with small yellow tinted lenses.

"Please, tell me where we are," she begged him, her heart lowered down from her throat to her stomach.

Tyler shrugged.

"Please?" She urged him.

"I don't know, don't you remember this morning? We were running from that, I don't even know what it was, that thing." He squinted at her but when he saw the clearly confused look on her face he was shocked, "you don't remember?"

"No!" She shook her head. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh." Tyler looked away out into the fog, either sullen or sad, Anna couldn't quite tell. "You don't remember."

"Remember what? Who are you? Where are we?" Anna demanded again, using anger to hide her fear.

"I told you already I don't know!" Tyler threw his hands in the air.

"Then who are you?" She asked, forcing herself to calm down.

"Tyler," he sighed. "I told you that one already too. I'm in your history class, fourth period?"

She frowned, not remembering him at all. Tyler laughed.

"Yea, I guess I didn't figure you would remember me." He turned his back to her and tried to see through the fog.

Anna went and stood beside him. The rock she had been sitting on was nearly invisible now in the dense fog. She was glad to at least have someone else with her, even if he was a complete stranger.

"This morning... we were here together this morning?" She wondered aloud, trying to make sense of her situation. He nodded.

"Yea, just out of nowhere, one minute I was sitting in my room watching the TV and the next, BOOM I'm here and some big hairy monster's chasing us!"

Anna frowned and tried hard to remember, but she couldn't. She couldn't remember anything that had happened that morning.

A low rumbling and high-pitched scream of an animal came from somewhere out in the fog. Anna jumped and Tyler stood still, trying to pinpoint where it was coming from.

"We'd better go," Tyler whispered to her in a cautiously low tone. Anna nodded and they began to walk away from the noises through the fog.

---

Nightfall came and the fog still hadn't let up. Anna sat on the bare ground and held her knees up to her chin. She rested her head and closed her eyes, wondering when she'd be able to go back home. All there were in that place were rocks and dirt. No trees, no other people, they'd heard animals but hadn't seen any yet. Worst of all there was nothing to start a fire with and it was getting colder as the light faded away.

"Hey Tyler?" Anna looked up at him; he was huddled on the ground using a small rock to draw things in the sand. He didn't answer her and never did. "How did we get home last time?"

Tyler shrugged and dropped the rock.

"We were hiding behind a boulder, and then," he snapped his fingers. "Just like that I was suddenly sitting in my third period math class."

"Me too!" Anna smiled. Finally, something she remembered. "I was just suddenly in my science class, I have no idea how I got there though!"

Tyler shrugged and went back to his drawing.

"You're not much company," Anna commented.

"I guess that's just me." He didn't look up from the ground.

Anna sighed again and looked into the fog. "What if I don't remember this when we go back?"

"I don't know," Tyler mumbled. "I'll just explain it all again when we come back."

Anna laughed, "It was hard enough getting it out of you once! I'll have to do it again?"

The hint of a smile crept across Tyler's face. "So, what do you propose I do?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, tell me at scho . . . "

Anna snapped back. She was walking home clutching her books while Derek walked beside her. She didn't remember anything of the other world, of Tyler or the fog. Her mind was blank.

"So after that I had football practice. Why didn't you come see me? You should have seen it." He smiled and put an arm around her.

Anna stopped walking, it had happened again. One minute in History class, the next I'm walking home from school like usual.

"Ah," her heart was pounding in her chest. "I got to go home now." Her house was just up ahead. She ran there, up the front steps, through the front door and into her bedroom. She slammed the door behind her and sank down to the ground. Clutching her knees to her chest, she closed her eyes and tried to get a grip on herself. "What's happening to me?" She whispered to the empty room.

"Anna?" Derek's voice came from outside her bedroom door.

"Go away!"

"Anna, what's wrong? Come on you're scaring me." He knocked on the door again. She heard the doorknob turn and the door slowly opened, he peered through the crack and saw her huddled on the floor. "Anna."

Derek rushed into the room and kneeled down beside her.

"I don't know," she shook her head and hid her face in her hands.

Derek didn't know what to say. He put his arms around her and held her while she shook. His mind raced, what could possibly have happened to make her act so strange?

A truck pulled into the driveway outside. Anna heard it and looked up.

"Dad's home, you'd better go," she stood up with him. They raced downstairs and Anna watched him run out the backdoor and over the fence.

She took a couple deep breaths and tried to get a hold of herself. She told herself that she'd be fine and that everything would be all right.

---

The next day was Friday; Anna went to school in the morning and made it through her morning classes.

At lunch, while on her way to the cafeteria, someone reached out from behind a doorway and pulled her into the room.

"AH!" Anna screamed, she tried to get away immediately. Her captor held her tight and clasped a hand over her mouth.

"Don't scream! Anna, Anna it's me," she relaxed a bit, but she still didn't recognize the other person. He let her go. "Tyler, it's me Tyler."

"Tyler?" There was nothing familiar about that name.

"Don't you remember? The fog, the monsters," he looked at her pleadingly. She backed away.

"What are you talking about? You're crazy!"

"No, no, Anna, please. You have to remember, please!" He was nearly begging her. She stopped moving away; her curiosity got the better of her.

"Okay, so, what am I supposed to remember?"

"The fog, the monsters, disappearing," he tried to turn all the information into sentences.

"Disappearing?" She asked after a long moment.

He nodded.

"Like, being in one place, then suddenly, somewhere else entirely?"

"Yea!" Tyler almost smiled. "Do you remember now?"

"No," she shook her head, frustrated. Not wanting to think about how strange her life had become.

Tyler sighed. He looked around the room then back at Anna.

"When we go back will you remember me?"

"Uh," Anna thought this a strange request. "Sure, I guess. Ya."

"Good, that's all then," he flopped back in the teacher's chair and waved her away. "You can go now."

"Um," Anna stared at him.

"Go! People are going to wonder where you are," He spun the chair around and held his head in his hands, already deep in thought.

Anna stood there a few moments longer then turned and left the dark room. She walked slowly down the hall, dazed, as if she were in a dream.

"Hey babe!" Derek ran up behind her. "Where you been? Been looking for you."

Anna shook her head. "I um," she tried to think of an excuse. "I had to go to the bathroom. Sorry."

"It's okay," Derek smiled and took her into his arms. "You're shaking!" He exclaimed. "What's wrong?"

Anna tried to hide her face from him. "Nothing really." She turned and smiled up at him. "I'm fine, just a little cold I guess."

---

After school she and a few of the other girls on the basketball team got together for a practice in the gymnasium. None of them bothered to change out of their street clothes, expecting a short skirmish only. "Pass it over here!" Anna's teammate hollered from across the gym.

She was surrounded. Two girls on her left and one to her right, none of them had made a move yet.

"Anna!" Someone behind her screamed. She got ready then through the ball over her head. Her shadows went chasing the ball in the other direction.

She laughed and followed them, running to back Sherry up. One of her feet landed on her shoelace and she fell hard. The wind was knocked out of her and tears sprung to her eyes. She lay there for a few seconds before blinking the tears back. She couldn't clear her eyes though. There was a strange mist blurring the gym walls and her teammates. The entire gymnasium was soon engulfed in the mist, the fog. The hardwood floor under her stomach turned to dirt and trampled grass.

Anna jumped to her feet, she blinked and realized that it wasn't her eyes that were blurry but there was a fog around her.

"Anna?" A voice called out. She recognized the voice of her midday captor.

"Where are you?" She called back.

A dark figure appeared in front of her. It came closer until she recognized Tyler.

"Is this what you were talking about?" She demanded angrily. "Why did you bring me here? We were winning!"

"I didn't do this!" He became immediately defensive.

"Who then?"

He shrugged. "Let's go, we shouldn't stay in one spot too long."

"Why?" She had calmed down.

A loud screech came from somewhere in the fog.

Tyler just stared at her.

"Oh . . . " she nodded and followed him as he started in one direction.

"Do you even know where you're going?" She wondered aloud.

He shook his head but continued at the same pace.

"Then how do you know where you're going? What if you're leading us right to one of those monsters?"

"Then we'll run in the other direction like before," he answered simply.

"Oh, so you've led us into a monster before?" she laughed.

He frowned and didn't answer.

"It's like the blind leading the blind!"

"Look, do YOU know where you're going?"

She shook her head.

"Then stop it."

"I was just trying to lighten our mood! It's scary here, don't get all worked up!"

He shushed her. She closed her mouth, then moved to protest before she nearly ran into him when he stopped walking abruptly.

"Which way to the castle good sir?" A voice called out.

"Nearly four quads straight ahead, you can't miss it that way!"

"Thank you kind sir!"

"I don't see anyone," Anna whispered, forgetting to reprimand him for speaking to her in such ways.

"Me either, let's walk ahead," he continued walking and stopped in front of what seemed to be a fruit stand.

Tyler whistled at the fruit that lay spread in front of him.

"I think it's fruit but," he bent down to smell it and feel it. "It's, nothing like the fruit back home."

"You there!"

They turned to see a strange creature dressed in colorful robes and a tall pointed hat. Its face was covered in white fur and its eyes were small and beady.

"What are you doing? Would you like to purchase some fruit? The finest fruit in all the land it is!"

Tyler shook his head.

"Eh? What about you, kind lady?" The creature peered at Anna.

"N-no thanks," she stammered.

"Oh," the creature looked disappointed. Or, what Tyler assumed was disappointed.

"You two are dressed awfully strange. Where are you from?" The creature waited for only a few second but didn't give them a chance to answer. "I am Hotep."

"I'm Tyler, this is Anna," Tyler introduced them.

The creature started making high-pitched screeching noises. Tyler stepped back and put an arm out to shield Anna.

"Oh I am sorry!" Hotep stopped. "Those are just, the funniest names I've ever heard!"

"You were laughing?" Anna raised her eyebrows and looked at Tyler questionably.

"Yes, yes, I apologize."

"It's okay."

The creature stretched his hand out to Tyler. Tyler cautiously shook it.

"I am pleased to meet you!" Hotep smiled ghoulishly.

Anna shook his hand too and smiled sweetly.

"Like you I do," Hotep grinned. He scurried around behind the fruit stand and came out with two orange-like fruits. "For you, from me, a gift!"

He placed one in each of their hands.

"Um, thanks," Tyler examined the fruit. Anna dug her fingernails into the skin and peeled it off. The inside of the fruit was white with green lines running through it. Anna took a bite and smiled.

"It's very sweet!" She smiled.

"Finest fruit of all I said! Told you I did!" Hotep clapped his hands happily.

Tyler started walking and Hotep jumped.

"Leaving so soon you are?"

Anna kneeled down so she was eye level with the tiny creature.

"I'm sorry, but, we must keep moving."

Hotep let out wailing noises.

"First friends Hotep has made in so long you are!"

"We're going to the castle," Tyler said. It was the only place where he thought he could get some answers. Plus, hearing that voice ask for the castle earlier had stirred something within him. He knew that he would get answers at the castle.

"You are going the wrong way!" Hotep laughed again. He pointed in the opposite direction. Tyler turned around.

"Come with you I will!" Hotep cried. He ran into the shop. Anna and Tyler heard pots banging and the entire stand seemed to shake. He came around the other side and swept the fruit into a bag.

The stand was left empty.

"You sure you can carry all that?" Anna eyed the bulging bag.

"Yes, yes I am strong!" He hefted the bag onto his back and grinned at them.

"All right then," Tyler shook his head and started walking the way Hotep had pointed.

After stopping seven or eight times so Hotep could rest, they arrived outside the castle gates.

Hotep ran up and knocked on the heavy wood doors.

A guard from the right tower called down to them "Who goes there?"

"It is I, Hotep! Come to exchange money for wares!" Hotep smiled up at the guard.

"Very well," the gates began to open. "Don't cause any trouble this time!"

They entered the castle courtyard. Anna blinked and ran forward, she spun around.

"Hey the fog's gone!" Tyler exclaimed. Everything was clear there was no fog hanging in the air.

Anna walked back to her friends gazing up at the rich tapestries that covered the castle interior. They depicted stories of past kings and queens. One tapestry showed a war, there was so much emotion woven into the fabric Anna almost felt as if she had been there in the scene shown.

"This way!" Hotep scurried ahead of them. Anna followed but Tyler lingered a moment longer.

"Deja vu," he mumbled to himself.

"Are you coming?" Anna called. She spun around to look at Tyler. He stared at her. She looked out of place. She should be wearing a dress, robes. That's how he remembered her. Remembered? He had never been here before, how could he possibly remember her here?

"Let's go!" She swung her arms in the direction Hotep was running.

Tyler ran to catch up with Hotep and Anna, The courtyard was bright and covered with every color of the rainbow. Colors and spices assaulted his senses as they entered the marketplace Hotep stood at a stand selling various kinds of shoes. He had a small pair of leather boots in his hands and was yelling at the merchant while waving his arms in the air.

It was almost impossible to hear anything, there were all kinds of strange creatures haggling and bartering. Anna tried to stay close but every once and a while someone would push past and Tyler would lose sight of her.

"Tyler!" He heard her call him.

"Over here!" He yelled back.

She pushed between two large hippopotamus creatures and nearly fell into Tyler.

Hotep grabbed both their hands and dragged them through the crowd. He led them to an open space at the other end of the market.

"There," he smiled and lifted his bright robes to reveal new leather boots.

"Ah, so you convinced that merchant?" Tyler smiled at him.

"That's right! You stay here, I will be back. I will try to sell my fruit."

Tyler nodded, glad to be away from the shopping frenzy. Hotep scurried back and immediately disappeared into the crowd.

"We've been here awhile, longer than usual." Anna looked around.

"I think we'll get answers here," Tyler reassured her.

"Here? You mean you're going to talk to the leaders here?" Anna was shocked. Tyler hadn't discussed his plan with her at all. He nodded and cradled his forehead in one hand while thinking. Anna sighed and plopped herself down on the side of a nearby fountain.

"Oh man," she moaned. She wondered what was happening back home. Every time she came here there was a part of her that stayed back in the real world. No one would know she was missing. She hoped that the part of her back home wasn't causing trouble.

---

"We wish to speak to whoever rules here," Tyler announced to the guards. They laughed right away.

"Who are 'we' and what authority to you have to demand an audience with his majesty?"

"We are Anna and Tyler." Tyler stepped forward. The guard's hands moved toward the hilt of their swords.

"You will wait here," one of them stated. The other opened the door and ran through. Anna and Tyler waited outside. Tyler crossed his arms across his chest and glared at the guard.

They were of average height, with pointed noses and ears set atop their heads. This one's eyes sparkles bright purple, his armor was new and shiny. His chest puffed out with pride and a symbol of some kind of rodent was on his chest plate.

"This way." A nose poked through the door. A small page stood beside the guards. "I will hear your request, and take it to my king," he proposed.

"We want to know where we are, and why we're here," Tyler spoke each word carefully, as if he were explaining something to a toddler. The page stared at Tyler in confusion then ran off down the hall. Anna and Tyler waited behind the doors for an answer. It seemed to take forever for the small boy to come running back.

"The King will see you, but only for a short while. And you had better not upset him!" The page warned them before leading them down the hall. There was another set of doors at the other end. Guards there opened the doors and they entered a large courtroom.

"Your majesty, the outsiders are here," the page announced their arrival in a loud voice. Anna walked forward cautiously behind Tyler.

Tyler could feel his heart rise into his throat. He had never been good at speaking to other people. What he said to this King could mean the difference between life and death.

"What do you want?" The King bellowed. "Hurry up, come here in front of me."

Tyler doubled his pace and stopped before a throne. The King sat there, just like in fairy tales. He wore grand robes of red and purple, and a crown adorned with jewels rested upon his head.

Anna studied his face; it was old and wrinkled. He looked friendly enough, and his face seemed to smile although his mouth wasn't.

"Yes sir, your m-majesty sir," Tyler stuttered.

"Speak up boy!" The King laughed, "you look like a frightened hare! Come now I won't eat you!"

"Y-yes sir," Tyler bowed his head. Get a hold of yourself you're making an idiot of yourself. He scolded himself. "We," he motioned to Anna, "we would like to know . . . where are we? And, do you know why we're here?"

The King stared at them both. His brow furrowed and his eyes squinted.

They looked very familiar to him. He couldn't quite place where he'd seen them before but he knew there was something about them he had encountered before.

"Why, young lad, you are in Herdold, the greatest kingdom in the east!" He sat back and stroked an imaginary beard on his chin. "But, why you are here, I cannot answer that for I do not know."

"Oh," Anna lowered her eyes to her shoes, disappointed.

"Perhaps," The King felt a need to help these two strangers. He searched for someone who might now why they were here. "Perhaps, if you went to see the oracle, atop Mount Kolts."

"The oracle?" Tyler echoed.

"Yes, she is an all-knowing being of our world! You don't know the Oracle?"

"Oh! That Oracle. Of course I know the Oracle!" Tyler nodded. He turned to shrug at Anna.

"But," the King smiled. "I think I have taken a liking to you two. I would have you stay in my inn tonight!"

It sounded like more of an order than an invitation. However, some place to sleep did sound inviting to the two worn out teens. Tyler and Anna agreed to stay the night. They were lead to a far wing of the castle, and introduced to a spacious room with two beds. The soft rectangles were covered in pillows and fine silks. Anna smiled and Tyler scoffed.

"Typical," he rolled his eyes and kicked off his shoes as the page closed the door behind them.

"Typical what?" Anna glared at him as he moved to sit on one of the beds.

"You must feel like a fairy tale princess," he made his voice go higher at the end of the sentence, trying to mock her. The way her eyes glittered at the richly painted and decorated room made his insides clench up. For some reason it seemed too right to be here with her and that made him edgy. Why did he feel so at home?

Her eyes flashed dangerously and she took her shoes off before stalking over to the remaining bed. "So what?" She huffed angrily.

He bit the inside of his cheek at the sting of her harsh voice. He hadn't meant to make her angry. Just don't say anything. He flopped back onto the bed, thinking about how the king would send them to the mountain, and about who or what the oracle was. He vaguely thought of Delphi from greek mythology.

"You think we're going to visit some drug induced raving lunatic?" He asked at that thought. She'd been sitting cross-legged on the bed, trying to figure out why his teasing made her so angry.

"What?" She almost tripped over her words at his unexpected question. She started to giggle.

"Nothing," he sat up and stared at the painting of a white horse that hung opposite him. She watched for a few moments, letting the silence stretch until she couldn't stand it for another second.

"So I guess we're stuck in this room all night," she commented. He didn't acknowledge that she'd said anything and she shifted, not used to being ignored so methodically. Part of her wanted to yell at him and demand the attention she knew she deserved. But she pushed that part away, willing herself to make peace with her only companion. "You know, we've been together for a while now and I don't even know your last name."

"Ranker." He spoke curtly, as if the name burned his voice to speak.

"I knew some Rankers once," she smiled, happy to have possibly found a source of conversation. "A girl named Allie, are you related to her?"

He shook his head. "That's my step-mother's last name."

"What's your father's last name?"

He only shrugged.

"You don't know?"

"He died a long time ago. I never asked."

"Never asked?" She laughed in her shock.

"Nope," he took off his glasses and began cleaning them with his shirt.

"What about your real mother?"

"Dead too."

"Oh," she fidgeted in the ensuing awkward silence. "I'm sorry."

"Don't act like that," he spoke gruffly, slipping his glasses back on. "I hate it when people talk like that. I never knew either of them. You don't miss what you never had. It doesn't matter so stop staring at me like I'm some pitiable animal." He hadn't even looked at her, but he could feel the weight of her stare.

"What's it like with your step-mother then," she asked, testing the limits of her questioning. He didn't answer right away, just started to take his coat off. "Don't want to talk about it? That bad?"

It wasn't that he didn't want to talk about it. He desperately wanted to talk about it. No one had ever asked him about life with his step-mother before. He wanted to tell her about the beatings as a child, how he was regularly locked in his bedroom and denied food. How she'd trained him to smile for their guests and hug her. Tell her he loved her. He wanted to talk about how he practically lived on the streets, only attending school for fear of being killed by her. He needed her after all, he had no social skills, couldn't get a job if he tried. She dressed him up on the outside, trying to show what a good 'mother' she was. He wanted to tell Anna all those things, but then he didn't. He only nodded.

"Ya, it sucks," his voice told her there was more to it than that, so she pressed him, feeling control of the situation coming back into her hands.

"Is she mean to you?"

Again he nodded, but had no verbal comment to add.

"It can't be that bad." She stated, trying to get more out of him. Instead he put on the worst fake smile she'd ever seen and turned his head slightly to look at her.

"No," the words were forced and she could tell. "It's not that bad."

"Are you sure about that?"

The smile quickly faded and he looked away again. "Would you quit asking so many questions? Do you ever shut up?"

"Fine!" She huffed again, laying back on the pillows and turning so her back was to him. She didn't want him to see the frustration she was feeling. No one clamed up to Anna. It just wasn't done. Tyler shifted, feeling like he'd just missed a chance to finally get some things off his chest. Not like she'll remember them anyway. He mumbled internally, then his heart froze. When they went back she wouldn't remember anyway, so he could tell her and never feel the consequences for divulging something he'd kept secret so long.

"She hates me because of my father," he spoke finally, making Anna jump slightly and spin on her other side. Tyler was staring at the ceiling. He began to recount his childhood to her, all the pain he'd been holding inside slowly slipping out of him to her attentive ears. By the end he let his head roll to the side and caught the shimmer of tears in her eyes.

"That's terrible," she whispered, feeling an inexplicable urge to go to his side and wrap her arms around him. He'd let her touch a part of his soul and she wanted more. She knew the soul, though she'd forgotten it a long time ago. Familiarity washed over her suddenly at having felt him so tangibly without actually touching him. She knew that feeling as well. It had all happened before. But when?

---

A knock came at the door of their room later that night. Tyler groaned and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. He walked to the door and opened it. The same small page that had delivered their message to the King stood there.

"The King would have you join him for dinner. He wishes to know more of you."

Tyler nodded and squinted at the torchlight.

"Yea, let us get dressed we'll be right out," he closed the door and stumbled over in the dark to get Anna up.

"Get up," he shook her shoulder. "The King wants us."

She moaned and opened her eyes, staring up at Tyler. She sat up straight and looked around.

"Oh," she sighed. "I dreamed I was home."

Tyler threw his trench coat on and put his glasses on before going back to the door.

"Put your shoes on, come on, we don't want to keep him waiting."

Anna slipped her shoes on and ran her fingers through her hair. Tyler already had the door opened and was walking down the hall with the page before she even got out of the room.

"Wait for me!" She called. She was afraid of being left behind. Tyler was the only thing she had of the real world and she wasn't planning on losing him any time soon. They kept walking though and she had to run to catch up.

"The two outsiders are here your majesty," the page announced their arrival.

"Excellent!" His baritone voice resounded through the hall. The page hurried them into the room. A long table with all sorts of dishes on it was in the center. The page sat Tyler on the King's right hand and Anna on his left. Two courtiers sat beside each of them, they looked displeased at having been moved from the Kings closets sides.

"Well," the King smiled at his guests, about twenty in all Anna estimated. Most had finished eating already; they must have been called in long after the dinner started.

"You," he looked at Tyler searching for a place to start. "Tell me your names again."

"Tyler," he pointed to himself, "and Anna," he motioned across the table.

"Ah yes," the King smiled.

"Where did you come from?" Was his first question.

"Far away," Tyler answered immediately. He saw the danger in telling them the truth. Who knows what would happen in this strange world? If he told them he came from another planet or even another world they could accuse him and Anna of being witches . . . or something like that. They could be burned at the stake! Like in those stories they heard sometimes in History class.

Anna stared at him. He winked and kept talking, "from far distant lands. We found ourselves in your fine kingdom." He stopped, trying to put together a reasonable story. "And decided that the easiest way to find out where we were and why we were there would be to talk to the leader of the country! Ah, kingdom," he corrected himself.

Anna smiled and agreed.

The King turned his attention to Anna, "So, you are a woman?" he laughed. "Yet you dress like a man, how unusual."

Anna looked down at her blue baby-T and jeans. Then over at the fine dresses and silk robes of the other girls at the table. She suddenly felt strangely out of place. As if she really should fit in, and something was desperately wrong.

"You two are . . . ?" The King sat back and studied them. "Not family, no, perhaps this is your wife?" The King liked to be right. He would guess things that were obviously the right answers. Most in the kingdom would encourage this by acting as if the King were amazing at deducing things. Tyler almost choked trying to keep from letting out a loud scoff. Anna turned bright red.

"No your Majesty," she squeaked in a quiet voice. "No, not at all, we're . . . " She stopped and tried to think of the word. She really didn't consider herself Tyler's friend; they barely knew each other. "We're acquaintances."

Tyler kept quiet. He had the perfect poker face; No one could tell what he was thinking or feeling from his facial expressions.

The King looked disappointed. "Yes well, I see."

The others in the room started their own conversations. Mumbling about Anna and Tyler.

"They're dressed so strangely," one whispered.

"Look at the boy, I think he's got something planned, look at his face. It's almost sinister."

Tyler focused on the table. He waited for the King to dismiss them; he wanted to get back to the inn and crawl into the bed. He had never liked talking. Actions spoke louder than words, so what was the point of sitting around talking about everything? It was a waste of time.

Anna couldn't shake the feeling that something was desperately wrong. Like there was a puzzle in front of her but none of the pieces fit. The longer the two stayed silent the more malicious the rumors about them grew. People began speaking louder, so that Tyler and Anna could hear them. The King did nothing for a bit, then, once his stomach had been satisfied he stood.

"Good night you all, may you all rest well," he announced.

Everyone but Tyler and Anna stood and bowed before the King left.

Early in the morning, just as the sun began to cast shadows of light through their window Tyler heard a faint knock on the door. He moaned, what now, and lay in bed awhile longer. He drifted back to sleep and forgot about the early morning visitor.

"Tyler! Tyler get up!" Anna shouted. His eyes snapped open and he sat up in bed right away. She stood at the door trying to hold small furry man, much like Hotep, from barging into the room. Tyler got up and walked across the room in his boxer shorts.

"Let me in! I must speak with you!" He pushed hard against Anna and she gave in, they tumbled in a heap on the ground. The small creature got up and stared at Tyler wide eyed, then turned away as if embarrassed.

Tyler looked down at himself and shrugged. "It's okay, people do this all the time," he assured the creature.

"Ah," he still refused to look up. "Well, I am your guide, Youli, I will take you to see the oracle."

"Oh, thanks, did the King send you?" Anna smiled. They were such friendly people.

"Yes, yes!" The animal turned his attention to Anna. "We will leave as soon as you are ready!"

Tyler busied himself trying to find his clothes. The King had kept them up late into the night talking about their home and other political things. When they made it back to the inn Tyler striped while walking and threw his clothes carelessly.

Once he'd found everything and discovered his glasses, slightly bent on the bed he ran his fingers through his hair.

"Man, you guys don't have hair gel here do you?"

Youli blinked at him, a confused expression, "hair gel?" He asked.

He sighed and shook his head, "Guess not."

"Can we go?" Anna asked impatiently. She wanted to go home, in a hurry.

"Ya," Tyler began walking to the door of the inn.

The ground outside was trampled, there was no grass growing. Across from them there was a horse stable and a Tavern. There were also a small shop and an armory. Tyler detoured to the shops. He stopped outside and looked in.

"What sorts of things do they sell here?" He asked the guide.

"Oh Magnificent potions, revives, antidotes you know, normal things needed for long travels. Perhaps you would like to buy some before we leave?"

Tyler shook his head no.

"We haven't any money with us," Anna explained when the guide opened his mouth to protest.

"Well, I will buy things then we will need them I am sure!" He scurried inside the shop. Tyler had wandered over to the weapon shop. He picked up a sword that was on display and held it in two hands.

"It's not really heavy at all," he commented.

"Yes boy, that's because it's a child's sword." The shopkeeper came out. He took the sword from Tyler and dropped another much longer one in his hands. Tyler nearly dropped it then struggled to keep it level with his waist.

"Now that's a man's sword!" The shopkeeper laughed. "Do you want it? A fine weapon it is!"

"Uh," Tyler lifted it higher. The weight of the sword was strangely familiar. He held the scabbard with both hands and brandished the sword for practice.

"My! You do know your way around swords! Perhaps you're like to see some of the higher quality? I would like to give you a discount! Such a skilled Swordsman deserves a well-made sword!"

Tyler lowered the sword and stared at the shopkeeper. He had never handled a sword before in his life! How could he be as skilled as this man made him out to be?

Youli came out of the item's shop and saw them talking with a weapon's shopkeeper. He came over right away to make sure they were avoiding conflict.

After Anna explained what was happening, Youli took out a small pouch.

"We have a small pension from the King. I do think it would be best to bring weapons with us. It is dangerous outside the castle walls," Youli made his way inside the shop where the weapon maker was showing different swords to Tyler.

He went over to a display case and picked up a dagger. After careful inspection he put it back and reached for a longer one. Anna stood in the center of the shop, confused. They were only supposed to be visitors here. She wanted to go home, she didn't want to buy weapons and potions. She wanted to be home.

"Here Anna," Tyler dropped a bow into Anna's hands.

She snapped out of her daydream and stared at the bow. "What?"

"You'll need protection too," he gave her a quiver of arrows.

"Oh," she looked at the bow again, then held the quiver up.

"Like this," Tyler lifted on of her arms and slid the quiver over her head so it was slung across her back. He took the bow and slid it into place behind the quiver.

Anna tried to turn her head so she could see the weapon on her back.

"But Tyler, I've never done archery! I don't know how to use this!"

"You'll learn," he urged her. He lowered his voice so only she could hear, "I've never held a sword in my life, but as soon as I picked one up I was a master at it."

"How? I don't understand, you mean if I try I'll be good too?" Tyler shrugged and walked back to the shopkeeper. Anna sighed in frustration; he never answered her questions. It was okay that he didn't like to talk but he never talked to her.

Once they left the castle gates, the fog surrounded them again.

"Oh," Anna frowned and plodded after Youli. Tyler walked off to one side, in his own world of thought.

The bow and quiver felt uncomfortably familiar on Anna's back, she grew used to its weight immediately and at times during their walk, forgot it was even there at all.

"Over there is where Hotep's fruit stand was isn't it?" Anna wondered out loud, seeing a blurry image through the fog.

Tyler began to walk toward the shadow, as they came nearer they saw that it was indeed Hotep's fruit stand. Once they came close enough, they realized that it had been nearly destroyed.

"What?" Anna ran closer. "It's all broken!"

The boxes that had displayed fruit were scattered in broken pieces around the stand, the cloth roof was torn and two of the posts holding it up were cracked and fallen over.

Youli was silent as he walked closer to the stand, Anna ran around behind the stand.

"Ahhh!" Tyler ran after her to the rear of the stand.

Anna was on her knees, in front of her was Hotep, dead. She gathered the tiny creature in her arms and started to cry.

Youli walked slowly around the stand and cringed when he saw Hotep.

Tyler knelt down beside Anna. It looked as if an animal had attacked Hotep. It must have broken his neck.

"So Frogo has struck yet again," Youli spoke aloud.

"Frogo?" Tyler said aloud.

"Yes, he is the creator of the monsters which hunt us down. To him we are merely rodents. He wants to rule Pergia, purge it of all rodents and other species," Youli walked slowly over to Hotep. "We went to school together, back when we were children. He was always happy."

"You and Hotep went to school with Frogo?" Tyler asked. Anna stayed silent and rocked back and forth with Hotep still in her arms.

"Yes," Youli nodded. "He wasn't like us, he was of another species, the Hakelm, but his parents were of us. They adopted him. As he grew up, he began to notice the differences and we didn't let him fit it. Eventually he grew up and exacted his revenge."

Tyler nodded. He knew how it felt to not fit in, but he'd never resort to killing someone because of it.

"There are more like Frogo. When he rose to power they rallied to him and began to strike back against anyone different. It grew to a hatred of anyone who opposed him. He conquered the kingdom of the north a few years ago. He has been gaining strength since then." Youli hung his head. "Me, Hotep and a few others escaped here. I thought we were out of Frogo's reach. This was a peaceful kingdom. But two others have been killed recently, Lila and I are the only two left."

Anna rose to her feet, still holding Hotep's frail body. "He was really nice," she commented, probably thinking out loud to herself.

Tyler stood too. He looked around the stand and saw a small shovel in the corner. He took it and went outside, to a small fruit tree that grew beside the stand and he began to dig a hole.

When it was deep enough and big enough for Hotep he climbed out and walked over to Anna, who had laid the body out on the ground. His blood was smeared on her jacket. She wiped the tears out of her eyes and looked up at Tyler. He took off his coat and lifted Hotep. Anna trailed behind and Youli stood back, watching the humans.

Tyler lowered Hotep's body into the ground slowly. Anna began to cry again as their new friend was buried under the ground. Youli walked up beside them, still silent and patted the ground flat over Hotep's grave.

They plodded on in silence after that. Tyler liked it, but to Anna the silence was almost deafening. Hotep had been their first friend in this strange world, and now he was gone. She just wanted to go back home, sleep in her own bed . . . And see Derek again.

Tyler, however, was glad to be away from home. His stepmother was all he had at home. If it wasn't for her, he would be an orphan. They didn't get along very well at all; Tyler didn't understand why she kept him after his Dad died.

Youli was scared now. With just him and Lila left of their race the hunt to kill them would grow more intense. He wanted to be back in the castle, pouring over maps and books, not guiding two strangers to the oracle.

The wind began to pick up and it whipped around them, blowing Anna's hair into her face. Youli shivered through his layers of cloth, the wind was never a good sign. It began to howl. Tyler paid no attention to the wind. He plodded forward, regardless of the wind, or his companions.

Over the sound of howling wind an animal cry could be heard, followed by ferocious roaring. Youli stopped dead in his tracks and stood up tall on his hind legs. He sniffed the air and darted his eyes around nervously.

"Vadibek . . . " his voice was barely audible.

"What?" Anna shouted. The wind was picking up; the fog began churning upwards and all around them. It became even harder to see through the fog and mist. The friends drew closer together, scared. A piercing cry reached them through the fog, Anna jumped, and her heart began to race.

"The Vadibek is out there," Youli's eyes widened in fear.

The ground began to shake, Tyler put his arms out in front of his friends, as if to protect them from the danger. They stood in one spot, not sure where to run, afraid they would run right into the beast.

GRAWEL! The air seemed to vibrate with the noise of the beast. It had sensed prey ahead of itself, and it was still hungry. It bounded forward through the fog, closer, and closer it grew. Tyler reached for his sword and pulled it from its sheath slowly, trying not to make a sound.

Suddenly as if it appeared from thin air the Vadibek loomed over them. Perhaps four feet over their heads with jaws like a steel trap and eyes that shone red through the fog. A scream was caught in Anna's throat; she stood staring in sheer terror.

GRAWEL! It roared again. Tyler felt his knees turn to jello but he stood his ground, and lifted his sword to the beast. Anna and Youli cowered behind him.

"Oh no, oh no, oh no," Anna finally found words to speak.

The Vadibek reared back on its hind legs. It had orange scaly skin and hooves like a pig. There were two-foot long tusks, sharp as knives, protruding from its mouth.

Without another second to think it charged at them. Tyler raised his sword; it connected with the side of the beast's face, a minor annoyance, but just enough to get it mad.

Youli grabbed Anna's arm and they both ran.

"Tyler!" Anna called when he stayed. He didn't even turn to look at her. Anna watched him as he stared at the beast, swords in hand, ready to defend himself from its tusks.

"Your arrows! Shoot the beast!" Youli cried to Anna once they were a safe distance away.

"What if I shoot Tyler by accident?" She shook her head; "I've never used a bow and arrow before!"

Youli took the bow and an arrow from her quiver and placed them in her hands.

"Tyler can't possibly kill a Vadibek with a sword! Only the head of an arrow could pierce its thick skin!"

Anna stared at Youli then looked back out at Tyler, who was dodging and blocking at a break neck rate. He was sure to dodge the wrong way sooner or later . . . then those tusks would slash him, maybe even cut him open and . . . She shook her head and held up the bow and arrow.

"All right," she sighed.

She set it up the way Youli showed her. Pulled the arrow back, aimed carefully. The head of the arrow pointed directly at the side of the Vadibek.

She let it go and closed her eyes tight.

Whump. SCREE! Whump.

She opened her eyes. Tyler stood slumped, beside him was the body of the Vadibek on its side.

Youli ran to Tyler but Anna stayed still. She could have just killed Tyler, what had she been thinking? What if she had missed? Tyler walked back to Anna slowly. They locked eyes; he didn't need to say thanks. She knew what he felt just by the way he looked at her. She put the bow back over the quiver with trembling hands.

Youli congratulated Anna. The shot had been clean and perfect. She was shocked. They moved on quickly after. The smell of fresh meat would attract more predators and they didn't want to be around when that happened.

Tyler had gained a new respect for Anna; he didn't see her as the ditzy prom queen anymore. She had changed before his eyes, in only two days.

The trip to the mountains took longer than expected. Their food began to run short and Tyler, more than once, was forced to go hunting for their food. By the time the reached the first rocky hills of the mountain he had begun to consider himself an expert.

Anna missed home terribly, she missed her Mom and Dad, Cavin, her friends, and Derek. She counted the days until she could return home, it had been almost eight days since she left.

"Come on! Just grab my hand! You can do this." Anna hung precariously from a ledge. Tyler's hand waved just in front of her face, she was almost too scared to move. Slowly she reached up and he clasped her hand and pulled her up.

"Good show!" Youli exclaimed. "Only five more to go!"

Tyler leaned his head back and surveyed the next five ledges. He scratched the back of his head then began climbing again. Right foot, right hand, left foot, left hand, his hands and feet found footholds like an expert. This was how he had spent his childhood, climbing rocks and trees, buildings, walls, for a long while it seemed to be the only thing he was good at.

Youli scampered up the side of the mountain with even more ease than Tyler did. Anna stayed at the bottom, watching them with envy, fearing her turn to climb again.

After conquering the five ledges they found themselves standing on a narrow path, they had already climbed up most of the mountain. The sky clouded over and it began to drizzle a bit. The higher they got up the mountain the thinner the fog grew until, near the top, they stopped and looked down at the blanket of fog below.

The sky began to turn dim as the sun set before them. It was the first time Anna had seen the sun since she had arrived there. She smiled and sat, Tyler and Youli sat beside her.

Tyler muttered something to himself and Anna turned to look at him.

"What?"

He didn't answer her.

"Tyler?"

He sat looking straight at the ground, not responding at all.

"Tyler!"

End of Part One

— Anna and Tyler have learned many things about their new world. But they still have living breathing counterparts back on earth. What has been happening with them? —